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Category archive for: Molly McCully Brown

Where You Are (1)

Here, every season is too much of itself.

The winter comes through the break

in the windowpane and grows colder.

The snow bears on the dogwood branches

until they clatter to the ground

like felled bodies.

The summer is all sweat

and evening thunderstorms

that bring no water.

The heat warps everything wooden:

makes small mountains in the floorboards,

keeps the drawers from closing.

The doors are locked.

This is where the longest hours pass,

all these rows of narrow bunks, low lights.

One girl after another laughs,

lifts her hair from her neck,

moans in her sleep,

reaches out and brushes

someone else’s shoulder.

from The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and FeeblemindedFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2017
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

Numb

Afterward, the girls to whom it’s happened rehash the worst of it.

When you come back from the infirmary, for a few days

other girls will do your chores. Even the harshest few grow briefly gentle.

No one knows what happens.

It is not an appendectomy. It does not cure the pain or shaking.

Others say there is some soreness between the legs,

and then a sense, which will not leave you, that something’s been undone.

I wish I could feel it in my body. Even that small burning after whatever it is

they broke would be a comfort. They do not know that I can understand

and so, nobody says a word. The only way that I can chart some change

is in the way the doctors look at me after it’s happened.

Less fearful. Less appalled.

Relief: I wake.

Relief: upon waking, I can still lift my right arm from the bed.

Relief: what it would mean to feel a sharpness;
Yes, I know it happened.
Yes, I understand that I am changed.
Yes, I am still alive. I am still a body in the world.

from The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and FeeblemindedFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2017
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

Grand Mal Seizure

There’s however it is you call,

& there’s whatever it is

you’re calling to.

July, I sew

my own dress

from calico & lace.

August, they take it

off me in the Colony,

trade it in

for standard-issue

Virginia cotton.

Not much room

for my body in the

heavy slip; maybe

that’s the idea.

For awhile the abandoning
was rare & then it was not
& would never be again.

Imagine you are
an animal in your
own throat.

The dormitory has a pitched

dark roof & a high porch.

We are not allowed outside.

Instead, we go to the window & make

a game of racing dogwood blossoms

knocked down by the wind.

Choose your flower as

it falls & see whose

is the first to hit the clay.

I beat the crippled girl every day

for a week. The trick is to pick

the smaller petals.

Most nights, they knot
the bed sheet in my mouth
so I will not bite my tongue.

Lay out on the pine floor:
rattle your own bones back
to the center of the world.

In the beds, the smell

of kerosene & lye.

The girls wake themselves

one after another:

spasm, whimper, whine.

Outside: cicadas.

In the distance: the bighouse lights.

Another truck comes loud up the road

bearing another girl.

There is whatever it is

you’re calling to. There is

however it is you call.

from The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and FeeblemindedFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2017
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

What There Is To Give

Outside of here, my brother lost work

in the Chesapeake, and now

there is no money coming home.

Haven’t you heard the news?

There is no longer enough in the world.

Not enough oil or milk, money or bread

or labor for those of us with good bodies

and sound minds. Given that,

would you load what little you have

on a boat: stack it with carrots

and sardines and silver,

then push it, unmanned,

onto the river at night?

I didn’t think so.

Sometimes, when we’re bringing

in a girl, I catch her face before we shut

the door and she looks almost lovely:

a useless barge lit up,

bearing away on the water.

from The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and FeeblemindedFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2017
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

The Central Virginia Training Center (formerly The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded)

Whatever it is—

home or hospital,

graveyard or asylum,

government facility or great

tract of land slowly ceding

itself back to dust—

its church is a low-slung brick box

with a single window,

a white piece of plywood

labeled chapel, and a locked door.

Whatever it is,

my mother and I ride along

its red roads in February

with the windows down:

this place looks lived in,

that one has stiff, gray curtains

in the window, a roof caving in.

We see a small group moving

in the channel between one building

and the next, bowing in an absent wind.

He is in a wheelchair, she is stumbling,

pushing a pram from decades ago,

coal black and wrong. There is no way

it holds a baby. Behind them,

a few more shuffling bodies in coats.

I am my own kind of damaged there,

looking out the right-hand window.

Spastic, palsied and off-balance,

I’m taking crooked notes about this place.

It is the land where he is buried, the place

she spent her whole life, the room

where they made it impossible

for her to have children.

It is the colony where he did not learn to read,

but did paint every single slat of fence

you see that shade of yellow.

The place she didn’t want to leave

when she finally could,

because she’d lived there fifty years,

and couldn’t drive a car, or remember

the outside, or trust anyone

to touch her gently.

And, by some accident of luck or grace,

some window less than half a century wide,

it is my backyard but not what happened

to my body—

from The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and FeeblemindedFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2017
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

While Under

in the infirmary  the visions    grow in number

every time they take my pulse        another one

I imagine they are born in my blood  I imagine they are borne into the world

every time I take  a breath

the doctors do not tell me anything  people stopped

telling me anything  months ago

mostly I am afraid of the visions  but in the operating room

they multiply  grow gentle  sweetly  they tell me the story  of my life

once your father held you on his shoulders  so you could put your fingers

high  in the church rafters    and look for God

once you knew the name for every butterfly that flocked into the valley

I’m young  when they have told the whole story  they go back to singing

one bright morning  I’ll fly away

as I wake  they tell me not to worry  with the soreness or the burning

we are everything that you will ever need to make

from The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and FeeblemindedFind it in the library

Copyright © Persea Books 2017
Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc.
on behalf of Persea Books.

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Idaho Humanities Council, a State-based program of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this (publication, website, exhibit, etc.) do not necessarily represent those of the Idaho Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.